*”A Change is Gonna Come” will always be regarded as one of Sam Cooke’s best songs.
This year marks 50 years when the singer put pen to paper to write the tune. According to Cooke’s biographer Peter Guralnick, the current state of the times in 1963 was too much to ignore despite Cooke’s intent on not jeopardizing his newfound crossover appeal.
However, it wasn’t until the entertainer and his band were turned away from a Holiday Inn in Shreveport, La. that Cooke finally had enough.
“He just went off,” Guralnick told NPR. “And when he refused to leave, he became obstreperous to the point where his wife, Barbara, said, ‘Sam, we’d better get out of here. They’re going to kill you.’ And he says, ‘They’re not gonna kill me; I’m Sam Cooke.’ To which his wife said, ‘No, to them you’re just another …’ you know.”
Cooke, along with several people in his company, was arrested and jailed for disturbing the peace, according to a police report report says. Within a month or two after the incident, Guralnick confessed that “A Change Is Gonna Come” was written.
“It was less work than any song he’d ever written,” Guralnick shared with NPR, adding that “A Change Is Gonna Come” was unlike anything Cooke had ever recorded. “It almost scared him that the song—it was almost as if the song were intended for somebody else. He grabbed it out of the air and it came to him whole, despite the fact that in many ways it’s probably the most complex song that he wrote. It was both singular—in the sense that you started out, ‘I was born by the river’—but it also told the story both of a generation and of a people.”
Although “A Change Is Gonna Come” proved to be a winner for Cooke, the song’s civil rights message was a risky one during that time. Especially with Cooke’s breaking through with his first crossover tune “You Send Me.”
“His first success came with the song ‘You Send Me.’ I mean, this was his first crossover number under his own name, and it went to No. 1 on the pop charts, which was just unheard of,” Guralnick says while alluding to the influence of Cooke’s roots in gospel music. “As he evolved as a pop singer, he brought more and more of his gospel background into his music, as well as his social awareness, which was keen. But really, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ was a real departure for him, in the sense that it was undoubtedly the first time that he addressed social problems in a direct and explicit way.”
For more about Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” click here and check out the video below: